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The Digital Dilemma

April 25, 2024

For far too long, radio has been playing fourth fiddle to the digital realm as far as an advertising platform is considered. Now I’m not here to say that including digital as part of a comprehensive advertising campaign is something to be avoided. On the contrary, if a business is not ranking high in search nor gathering first-party data to communicate with their customers, they will have a hard time flourishing.

This is where I introduce you to Bob Hoffman, aka The Ad Contrarian. He is a longtime ad executive who is, shall we say, quite the iconoclast. He recently sent out an e-mail “Ad Scandal of the Week.” This is kind of a recurring theme of his – but in this one, he talked about MFA websites. MFA stands for “made for advertising.” These sites are designed to look like real websites, but all they do is attract clicks via filler content, multi-page articles, confusing navigation and interlinked sites solely to increase the number of ads shown to each captured user

He specifically referenced a MFA site created by Forbes that served up to 200 ads per page. The regular Forbes site served between three and 10 ads per article. Here’s the kicker: advertisers were paying regular rates for those ads on the MFA site.

Let’s pivot to radio.

Imagine if a radio station had an MFA signal that only served ads. And imagine if that same radio station billed their clients for all those ads that no one heard. This would spawn more than outrage. I believe it would involve a lawsuit or two.

There are countless studies out there that point to the efficacy of radio advertising. I’ve yet to read one that exposes radio fraud. Maybe someone out there is falsifying affidavits, but that would be a rare example (I hope).

I’m not suggesting radio should go on the offensive and bash the digital world for all this fraud (and what I pointed out is just the tip of the iceberg). Since every radio seller is also selling digital, that would be hypocritical. However, radio can tout the benefits of audio advertising when combined with a well-targeted and documented digital component. If an advertiser is spending a significant portion of their budget on programmatic ads, they may want to make sure those ads are actually being seen (or heard).

(We pause here to give you the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) definition of an ad impression: 50% of the ad’s pixel must be visible in the browser for a continuous one second).

So if it is below the fold, it counts but might not be seen.

Think radio could get away with that type of “impression”? Sure, we can lampoon the imperfectness of radio measurement. One thing radio cannot be accused of is cheating their clients.

If you want to follow Bob Hoffman (and you should), you can find him here.

-Steve Allan, Programming Research Consultant